[Slowhand] The Bow[l]ing Stones

John Mills turbineltd at btconnect.com
Sun Jun 15 03:25:00 EDT 2008


>From The Sunday Times

June 15, 2008
The Bowing Stones

The Rolling Stones have a secret passion: cricket. Here Bill Wyman tells the
Sunday Times Review the inside story of a rock'n'roll love affair - and of
their glamorous village team
David Walsh

Had you been travelling near the village of Cranleigh, Surrey, last Sunday,
you could have followed the signs to the cricket match and made the most
extraordinary discovery. For sure, there was much that was familiar from any
weekend match: the finely cut grass of the cricket pitch, families
picnicking around the boundary, white flannels, the white canvas of the
marquees, the ugliness of the ice-cream van. Startling, though, was the
familiarity of the faces inside the boundary.

The tall guy with the gentlest batting stroke - wasn't that Mike Rutherford,
the guitarist from the old rock band Genesis? And the one over there,
standing in the outfield, who looked like he didn't want to age, that was
surely Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. The same Waters who once filled us with
fight - "We don't need no thought control / No dark sarcasm in the
classroom" - was now playing cricket on a Sunday afternoon with Guy Waller,
the headmaster of smart Cranleigh school.

In the middle of them all, directing the flow of banter around the wicket,
stood Eric Clapton. An earnest cricketer, let us say. But it is the little
guy in the gully who rivets you. Bill Wyman, the old Rolling Stone, in his
72nd year and still up for it. Once velvet jackets, crazy shirts and funky
scarves were his battledress; now it is the establishment whites of the
cricket world.

"Subversive? Of course the Rolling Stones are subversive," Keith Richards
said 40 years ago. When the subversive stops rolling, is this where he ends:
in the ebb and flow of willow upon leather, nourished by the excellent food
organised by Belinda Graham-Rack and the women's committee at Cranleigh? But
look again: Wyman stands in the gully, one hand ready for the catch, the
other poised with a St Moritz cigarette between middle and index finger.

Wyman has played these cricket matches for 22 years. Trawl through the pages
of cricket's bible, the Wisden annual, and you will find him in the 1991
edition. It says: "Bill Wyman, fielding at gully, caught the ex-England
captain Brian Close, one-handed, with a cigarette in his other hand." The
team is called The Bunbury XI and it is the creation of Clapton and his
friend and fellow cricket-lover, David English.

Clapton has helped to rope in leading figures from show business, English
ropes in leading figures from all kinds of worlds and they have been playing
every summer for two decades. Along the way they've had a lot of laughs,
raised a lot of money (£11m) for charities and given Wyman the chance to
dance with one of the loves of his life.

There's a touching side to this Bunbury club, something that the debutant
Waters might not have understood before last Sunday. They were in the
changing room before the game when English called for some quiet and invited
the old Pink Floyd leader to stand and be inaugurated as a Bunbury. Onto a
room that had been full of banter fell an almost reverential silence as
English, holding Waters's shoulders, delivered the team's gospel:

A Bunbury stands for freedom,
Stands for fun,
Stands for ever being young;
So do a good turn unto others,
Never turn from your quest,
For you are a Bunbury
And a Bunbury does his best

Wyman would have watched a ceremony he has witnessed countless times and
felt the same emotional pull, because there is something about this band of
brothers. Not quite the Rolling Stones but it has given him a sporting life
that in his youth he craved but never got. He could bore you with the names
of the Bunburys he has shared a wicket with: Ian Botham, David Gower, Phil
Collins, David Essex, Georgie Fame, Mark Ramprakash, Elton John, Rory
Bremner, Viv Richards, Adam Faith, Brian Lara. On and on the list goes and
there's a lot of stories that Wyman could tell.

Like the day at Reigate Priory, Surrey, in 1993 when he got Michael Holding
out. At the time, Holding was a star in the West Indies team and one of the
world's most feared fast bowlers. "I bowled him with a googly," says Wyman.
"He came up to me, all the way up the pitch, and he's six feet five, and I'm
five feet seven, and he stood about two inches from my nose and said, 'Wait
till you bat, man, I'm going to give you some chin music'.

"I tried to be cool because he had to be joking. 'Oh yeah', I said, 'I'm
looking forward to that'. He then stomped off towards the pavilion and all
our players were saying, 'You haven't half annoyed him', and I'm saying,
'Nah, he's only winding me up'. So we went to lunch and a couple of the guys
come to me and say they had heard that Holding was ranting and raving in the
dressing room, saying what he was going to do to me. I said, 'Stop messin',
Holding's not like that'.

"Then Holding came walking towards me in the clubhouse, right behind me, and
he whispered in my ear, 'You wait till you bat, man, you gonna smell the
leather'. They called him Whispering Death because of the speed of his
bowling. I'm No 4 in the batting order and in no time we've lost two wickets
and I'm walking towards the wicket. As I do, the ambulance parked in the
corner of the field starts going 'di, dah; di, dah; di, dah'.

"Holding wasn't bowling, but as I walked to the wicket he came from the
outfield and took the ball from the bowler. This was halfway through the
over, very irregular. It made me a little nervous.

"I looked out in front of me and there was no one. All the fielders had
disappeared. I glanced behind and they were all there. Six bloody slips, two
gullys, a deep fine leg, a third man, a leg slip and they're all 30, 40
yards behind the wicket.

"Then I look at Holding who's gone back 30 yards and is scowling. I still
don't believe he's serious but I'm not sure any more. I'm thinking: he's a
world-class pro, I'm only an amateur, he can't be intending to do this. Then
he starts tearing at full speed and about a second before his arm came over,
I thought: bloody hell, he is serious.

"His arm spun, I didn't see a thing, I mean he bowled at 100 miles per hour.
I lost a sense of what was happening, could hear him saying, 'Whoosh man,
how's that', I looked around, the wicketkeeper was throwing the ball up in
the air, they were cheering and congratulating him, the umpire was saying
'out' and I was confused. 'I didn't hit that,' I said. 'It was so quick, I
didn't even see it. So how could I have hit it?'

"And Holding is all pumped up and again two inches from my nose. 'Of course
you didn't see it, man, because the wicketkeeper had the ball all the time',
and everyone just fell around laughing. The scam had worked perfectly, I'd
been done. Lovely, lovely man, Michael Holding."

When Wyman is driving his daughters, Katie, Jessie and Matilda to his place
in Suffolk, he slows the car through the villages and tells them about the
England of his dreams. "See, there's the duck pond and the village green
where people played sport, especially cricket. Where one village would play
against its neighbour, where the blacksmith went in against the vicar, and
where everyone came to watch. It brought the community together."

You can easily picture the scene in the car because he still has an innocent
sort of optimism; the years of rock'n'roll didn't take everything and his
love of cricket burns as brightly now as it did in his youth. The torch
first came to him from his maternal grandmother, Florrie Jeffery, an
intelligent and well-read woman who inspired her grandson.

"I came from a slum area of Penge in southeast London and, before going to
school, my grandmother had taught me to recite the alphabet backwards. She
went into service at the age of 13 and worked in a big house in Upper
Sydenham which happened to be next door to the legendary cricketer, W G
Grace. That's where she got her love for the game. During the second world
war I was sent to live in my gran's house to ease the pressure on my mum.
Later she used to watch the cricket with me on this six-inch black-and-white
television - or I used to watch with her, rather."

He liked it at his gran's house because, as the eldest of six, it wasn't
easy in his own house. For their once-a-week bath, he would bring the zinc
tub from the back yard, his mum would boil the water and then wash all six
in turn. By the time she got to Bill the water was no longer hot or clean.

He was one of three boys from a class of 52 in Penge who made it to grammar
school but he was not allowed to forget from where he had come. "At the
grammar school I was desperate to play cricket but I couldn't get any
coaching and I didn't have the gear. I didn't get a chance in the school
first team, nor the second or third team. Cricket was for the richer boys
from Orpington and all around there, the boys who were the best dressed, the
most well spoken."

He and his friend John Blagden got the job as scorers for the Lloyds Bank
cricket team who played at Beckenham and when they had rustled up enough
money they went to their first Test match at Lord's. Sixty years later it is
still vivid to him. To the Rolling Stones, Wyman brought his love for
cricket. "I was lucky, Mick [Jagger] and Charlie [Watts] were great cricket
fans as well. No matter where we were, we followed England's Test matches.
On tour I would read books about cricket, the older the better."

In the midst of all the attention on Wyman's many love affairs, his passion
for cricket was the only one that remained beneath the radar. "The people
who interviewed the Rolling Stones weren't interested in that. What they
wanted was the music and your hair and what clothes you were wearing and why
didn't you go on the roundabout at the end of the TV show, Sunday Night at
the London Palladium, and who pissed at the garage after the gig in Romford?

"They wanted controversy, to have a go at the Stones, and that was how it
was through our entire career. But, in a way, I was glad of that: people don
't know all of your private life, thank God. There was a little bit that was
still private, still yours."

BEFORE the Bunbury cricket club there was the Eric Clapton XI, before that
just a friendship between English and Clapton and a shared love for cricket.
Clapton's interest wasn't like Wyman's, he didn't have the archivist's
fascination with history but he loved the game, especially the spirit of Ian
Botham. In 1986, English suggested to Clapton that he start his own team.
"You organise it, David," Clapton replied, "and I'll be there."

To further enthuse Clapton, English took him to Lord's to watch England.
They wanted to get into the pavilion if they could but, without a tie,
Clapton was refused entry. English called up his pal Botham, told him of the
problem and even though Botham was padded and just a wicket or two away from
batting for his country, he came down to the door and presented Clapton with
his England tie.

The friendship survived longer than the tie and Botham became a regular on
Bunbury match days. It was common for English to take friends to Worcester
to see Botham play. Clapton, George Harrison, Elton John and Wyman all made
the journey but it happened that Botham was having one of those runs at the
crease, not able to put a decent score together.

A few days before Worcestershire were due to play Essex in a Sunday match to
which Clapton would go, the guitarist tried to motivate his friend. "Tell
you what, Beefy, if you score a century on Sunday, I'll play live in a pub
of your choice after the game," he said. Botham battered Essex, 125 off 70
balls. No one saw it coming, Clapton hadn't brought his guitar, but that was
solved by Botham remembering the gift he'd received from Clapton after the
victorious Ashes tour of 1986-7. The Fender Stratocaster was removed from
the wall of his home in Worcestershire and Clapton went in search of an
amplifier - in Worcester town centre late on a Sunday afternoon. He found a
music shop that was still open and watched as the assistant looked at his
credit card, then looked at him, then back at the name on the card. The
assistant asked his customer to wait while he made a call to the credit card
company. Eventually the amplifier and guitar were united at Botham's
selected pub in the Worcestershire countryside.

"Do you mind if I plug this in?" Clapton said to the landlord and, because
Botham was there, that was okay. Clapton began to play, the pub began to
fill, the players from both teams, locals who just happened to get lucky and
the last word on the evening came from Keith Fletcher, the England and Essex
player. "That Eric Clapton," he told his teammates, "is not bad on the

Wyman was there when, on July 11, 1989, the Eric Clapton XI passed away: "We
were playing at Penn Street, near Amersham in Buckinghamshire. Eric had a
big tour of Japan coming up, his manager Roger Forrester was wicketkeeper
and he and Eric were a bit nervous about an injury. I was in the slips with
Eric and every time someone snicked a ball, Eric would dodge out of the way.
I said, 'Eric, you're not even trying'. He said, 'I've got to watch the
fingers, got Japan coming up'. But I said, 'Well, we got to try, we got to
go for it, that's what we're here for'.

"It must have got to him because he went for the next ball and it knocked
his finger. He groaned, held up his broken finger and there were shouts of
'ice bucket, ice bucket'. You could see the finger was pulled right back.
Eric walked towards the pavilion, so concerned about his broken finger that
he didn't feel the bee land on his other hand and sting him.

"We heard the second set of screams. What's up now? 'A bee has stung my
other hand'. It swelled and Eric's sitting there with his hands in ice
buckets and the rest of us roaring with laughter.

"We're still laughing when the game resumes and the next ball comes flying
down the wicket, takes a bad bounce and hits Roger Forrester right on the
forehead, knocking him out. Eric decided that maybe having his own cricket
team wasn't the best thing and the team became the Bunbury XI. Of course,
Eric still plays with the Bunburys."

Wyman's greatest day in the Bunbury shirt came on May 6, 1995, in a match to
mark the 50th anniversary of the ending of the second world war. It was
played at the Oval and the match was televised live by Sky Sports. Joanna
Lumley opened the bowling for the Bunburys and Wyman became the first man to
take a hat trick in a televised match at the Oval.

Gary Lineker was first to go.

"It was his first ball. He was used to hitting sixties and eighties, so he
was rightly pissed off. Then Trevor McDonald went. And the last one was
Charlie Colville, the Sky cricket commentator, and everyone was happy with
that. I was man of the match. It's one of the things I love about cricket,
the people. I haven't met many people in cricket that I didn't like. There
were a couple that were a bit dodgy. Imran Khan wasn't the nicest person in
the world, I must say. But few and far between, and I enjoyed every minute I
spent among them."

After the Oval hat trick, Wyman thought he'd be clever and bow out. But he
could no more leave cricket than he could kick the St Moritz habit and, of
course, he was sucked back in. He turned up in Cranleigh last Sunday, not
even kidding himself that it would be the last. They had a fine lunch before
play and during the habitual auction, they put up a bat signed by the great
Australian Don Bradman.

It made Wyman think of Watts, perhaps his best friend from the Rolling
Stones days. How he and Charlie talked cricket in far-flung places and when
the touring was over Charlie started collecting cricket memorabilia. He has
quite a collection now and Wyman, trying to remember when his birthday fell,
thought the Bradman bat would make a fine gift. Typically, he worked out how
far he would go in the bidding. He decided to go to two or three grand, but
he didn't even get close. The bat went to Waters for £20,000.

You win some; you lose some. That afternoon, when the match began, Wyman's
team was being made to look laughable by the style of Mark Ramprakash's
batting. One of the finest English batsmen of his generation, Ramprakash was
hitting sixes or fours on virtually every ball. Then, four months short of
his 72nd birthday, along came Wyman. On his third ball, he bowled his
trademark slow and looping delivery. Ramprakash seemed to go for it but
missed, the ball crashed into the stumps and the Surrey superstar was
walking towards the pavilion.

"Afterwards, I met him and said, 'Hey, man, thanks for that'. He just smiled
at me and I didn't have the impression that he had given me a present. I
mean, people have been trying to get him out for years. I don't think he
gives presents."
And so old Bill Wyman, who got to be a cricketer in his fifties, rolls on to
the next rendezvous - the Bunburys play an Eddie Jordan XI at Stowe House,
near Silverstone, early next month. He supposes he'll have to be there - he'
s got a reputation to defend, a passion to satisfy. To that, who could say

The Bunbury club is holding a Grand Prix Ball for charity at Stowe school on
July 5. To buy tickets call 0207 193 7010 or www.eventvisiongroup.co.uk

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